Hunched over the laptop after work? Phone tucked under your pillow at night? Glued to the Ipad on the train in the morning? You might be a good candidate for a digital detox. Even if you don’t get twitchy when your gadgets start running out of juice, and aren’t troubled by eyestrain, headaches or neck problems, it still might be time for a digital diet. By periodically unplugging, you can start reclaiming the real life experiences that all those gadgets steal from us daily, albeit with our full permission. Sure, cutting digital consumption may sting a bit at first, but reconnecting with the people and things in life that really matter will allow your body, soul and mind to soar far higher than another peek at the long-range weather forecast ever will. Sound interesting? Willing to give it a whirl? Here’s where to start:
Cut the Cord and Reboot on National Unplugging Day, March 6, 2015!
Try this digital detox crash course: go cold turkey! Join like-minded folks everywhere who will be unplugging their digital devices for The National Day of Unplugging (NDU) – and hopefully not sharing the news digitally until after the fact. For the uninitiated, the NDU is a 24-hour power-down period that will last from sundown to sundown, starting the evening of Friday, March 6. Inspired by the traditional notion of the Sabbath, or day of rest, NDU participants will pledge to carve out at least this one day to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.
Bring in the Cavalry
If you, or perhaps those close to you, feel you may be on the verge of crossing into digital addiction, don’t get testy, get help. In the past year or two, an entire industry has emerged to help the over-connected dial-down their digital reliance. There are digital detox courses and camps, books and seminars, and even facilities with treatment programs akin to those originally designed for substance abuse. Yes, all that connectivity can come at a high price, but a least now there are help and treatment options, as well as apps (!) to help cut the digital cord – to a point we presume.
Send in the Clowns
As you start warming up to the idea of digital detoxing, you’ll need to re-learn how to entertain yourself without the glow of a screen. Or take a step the Zen direction and learn how to not entertain yourself at all. Instead, learn how to be still and quiet the mind. Meditation, without the help of an app, is a great way to clear your head, as is simply “spacing out.” Refresh your brain by giving it a few moments throughout the day to wander, to take in the surroundings and appreciate where you are in the moment in the real world, not the digital one.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend
In the evenings, saying “lights out” – and actually meaning it – has never been more important. You simply must create a nightly digital sundown to support your physical and mental health. Think screens before bed aren’t really that big a deal? Harvard researchers would tell you otherwise: they recently found that those infernal machines we love so much can disrupt melatonin production, sleep quality and mood. Consequently, our constant connectivity can cause us to sleep less and poorly which over time can encourage the development of a host of life-altering health problems. To help your body achieve the rest it needs, embrace the darkness – as in detox nightly, simply by banishing all electronics from the bedroom.
Free Your Mind, the Rest Will Follow
How to give your brain, eyes, wrists and fingers a much-needed rest? Step away from the blue-light-beaming screen and go old school: pen and paper every now and then! It may seem strange at first, but doing so will give your exhausted faculties a workout different from what they’ve grown accustomed to – and may help develop a few new neural pathways to boot. Make notes, doodle during dull meetings, write a love song or start sketching – whatever moves you. Using pen and paper instead of feverishly typing and tapping can help liberate body and soul, giving you a sense of physical and mental freedom the digital world cannot.
BE WELL BONUS: TRY-‘EM-NOW DIGITAL DETOX TIPS
To get into an unplugged groove, start by taking baby steps and keep challenging yourself to cut the cord a bit further every day without, of course, endangering your livelihood or life. Here are a few easy-to-implement tips for those just starting their digital detox journey—and for those of you who might need a little tune-up:
Get a Little Less Social
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other forms of social media may keep us all connected and make us feel a part of the larger community, but they are also major time and attention sucks. If you want to regain more control over your digital life, slash your social media time. Check-in in the morning and again at night, and call it a day.
Put the Brakes on Your Email
One of my patients who routinely trafficked over 200 -300 emails daily half-jokingly mentioned that she felt she’d developed what she called “adult-onset attention deficit disorder.” She felt she was constantly stressed and falling behind at work because she could barely think straight between incoming mail pings. How to combat the influx? Put on the out-of-office notification for a few hours a day, instructing colleagues to call you directly if it’s urgent; turn off incoming email audio pings and alerts; set email preferences to receive emails hourly instead of as they happen or set a timer to remind you to check email once or twice an hour.
Read Like a Kid at Sleepaway Camp
If you’re going to read in bed at night, read an old-fashioned book on paper, in low amber light or with a non-LED flashlight, to keep the blue light at bay and make reading in bed less disruptive to sleep. If LEDs are all you’ve got, then try wearing blue-blocker or amber glasses in the evenings to help your brain power down.
Hide Your Smart Phone
If you’ve dropped your landline but still need to be able to receive a late night call from the kids, keep the phone close enough so you can hear it ring but keep it face down or covered so the screen doesn’t wake you up when someone emails you in the middle of the night.
Get a “Dumb Watch,” Not a Smart One
An old-fashioned watch will give you one less reason to constantly check your phone.
Spend Time in Places Where Cell Phone Use is Frowned Upon
Yoga class, group meditation events, houses of worship, the lap lane at the local pool, knitting and quilting circles, you get the picture. None of these activities are compatible with the use of digital devices – so it’s time to check ‘em out!
Bust out the Filofax?
Be it in Outlook, a retro Filofax or a good old wall calendar, mark down and make time for regular digital detoxes, just as you would any other appointment. Set a nightly electronic sunset time for yourself and your family and stick to it. Commit to a weekly digital “Sabbath,” and try doing a weekend, completely unplugged. From there, it’s just a hop-skip to a week-long digital sabbatical, or what we used to call a vacation!